There were many obstacles that stood in the way of Rusma Kharel and Risa Sundu, the co-directors of Our Monologues 2021. Since April of last year, Kharel and Sundu have had to cast, rehearse, and advertise for the show — all despite the unprecedented challenge of a pandemic. Fortunately, they have managed to accomplish it all in time to produce a heartfelt and deeply personal 2021 production. The show will be performed as a free live stream on March 13 at 6 PM, as well as on March 20 at 7:30 PM.
The saga of 2021’s Our Monologues begins in the months following last year’s show. By February 2020, there already was discussion about who the directors for the following year would be. “Traditionally, [how] it works is that … as soon as you get to be a senior, the [current] directors present you with the choice of if you want to be director or not,” said Kharel, a senior in Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) at Berkeley High School (BHS).
Sundu, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), was at first hesitant to be a director, but ultimately realized it was something she really wanted to do. Sundu added, “It’s such a unique project. And like Rusma was saying, it’s so important to the community. … It’s such an honor to be able to lead it and bring it all together — especially considering all of the obstacles we had to overcome this year.”
As many students might already know, Our Monologues replaced the previous Vagina Monologues which focused on the stories of cisgender women. Last year’s directors decided to change the title and the content of the show to be more inclusive and relatable to a larger audience. This year’s production does just that.
“We really want to bring people’s attention to each other, and to the experiences that the people around them are having,” Sundu explained. “In such a big school, it can start to feel really impersonal. And so it really adds another level of impact knowing that all of these stories came from people that you know, and people that you care about.”
It was important to both Kharel and Sundu as directors to tell stories that are often overlooked, and to display perspectives that question the common narrative in Berkeley of ‘being woke.’ It’s clear that despite this narrative, there are still very real issues that need to be discussed. “In every corner of Berkeley High there’s something, and for us to be able to bring that up and make people talk about everything that’s going on behind closed doors is really, really important,” said Kharel.
The Black Lives Matter movement, mental health, sexual harm, nationality, self-image, and relationships: these are just a few of the topics that Our Monologues addresses. Sundu said, “If I had to use one word to describe the show, it would be identity. Because I think that … at their core, [the monologues] really come down to these experiences, and how they define us, or how they don’t define us.”
Our Monologues not only has two very dedicated directors this year, but an incredibly devoted cast of 16 BHS students. For Clio Monrad, a senior in AC, this was her second time doing Our Monologues. “[Last year] was truly an amazing experience and I had to do it again this year, even given the circumstances,” she said.
Something that makes Our Monologues unique to other shows is the process of submissions: all of the monologues are directly sourced from the BHS community. Sundu and Kharel were accepting submissions from April through September, which means that the show naturally reflects topics that are on the minds of BHS students. “Even if they’re not the issues that are going to be at the front of everyone’s mind, they’re clearly at the front of someone’s mind, and to us that makes them pressing,” said Sundu.
This year, about a third of the monologues are performed by the person who wrote them. About another third is anonymous, and the rest are monologues submitted by someone not in the cast. One way the directors helped actors connect to the monologues they are performing was through a workshop they did with writers and actors.
“We had writers who were comfortable enough come in. … Basically, [the cast] got to hear from the writer’s side and the thought process that they were having when writing the monologue,” Kharel told the Jacket.
Monrad said, “This year, I’m doing a song. … It was an anonymous writer, and I turned it into the music. I’m excited about that because it’s different than what I normally do.” She said about the other monologues in the show, “There are cute ones, there are sad ones, and there are really funny ones.”
The cast also met every Wednesday to bond with one another. Connecting was hard over the internet, but Monrad said, “Risa and Rusma have done such a good job just trying to bring everyone together.”
This year, there will be two live-streamed performances of Our Monologues. The live streams are located on the Our Monologues YouTube channel. “I think the community is going to be very, very happy with what we’ve worked on,” said Kharel. “I think there’ll be a lot of people who will relate to the things that are in the show.”